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Did Caitlyn Jenner help or hinder the trans revolution?

May 31, 2016
Caitlyn Jenner

(Public domain photo / US Mission to the UN)

The past year has been a watershed one in the fight to raise awareness and secure rights for people who identify as transgender. In an op-ed for Newsweek, John Cullen and Nick Kapser from the University’s Susan B. Anthony Center reflect on the very public transition of Caitlyn Jenner.

Cullen is coordinator of outreach and Kasper is program assistant at the center, which works to overcome barriers to equality by enacting policy change and addressing, for example, social justice issues and violence against women. Cullen also formerly chaired the Pride Alliance at the University and plays an active role in the Safe Space training program on campus.

For many Americans, the coauthors write, Jenner “has become the reference point for their perceptions and expectations of transgender people.” Her public transition has drawn media attention and sparked conversations. However:

Her daily life looks nothing like that of the rest of the transgender community, and by keeping the focus solely on one high-profile individual, much of the real story is being left out of the conversation. While the TV lights have never shined brighter on transgender issues, so much still remains in the dark.

Instead of a one-on-one with Diane Sawyer, many transition journeys begin with family rejection, discrimination and oppression for transgender Americans. Transgender people face staggering rates of unemployment, homelessness, denial of medical care, harassment, assault, suicide and murder.

Cullen and Kasper argue for considering multiple transgender voices and perspectives, and specifically highlight actress and activist Laverne Cox, who “uses her voice to bring attention to the challenges and barriers faced by all transgender people.” Cox was one of the headliners at the University’s 2014 Meliora Weekend.

By actively recognizing and thinking about the wider transgender community, we can contribute to a more diverse and inclusive society.

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Category: Voices & Opinion

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